The increasing number of people with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes poses a significant challenge to the health-care system of every country, says Dr. Gary Lewis, director of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University Health Network (UHN) and director of the Banting and Best Diabetes Centre at the University of Toronto.
“The complications associated with diabetes include a high risk of cardiovascular disease, blindness, amputation and kidney failure, and the consequences of managing these complications in an aging population are formidable,” he says.
At the same time, researchers are having tremendous success in developing new therapies, treating elevated blood glucose and reducing complications, he adds. “Diabetes is a disease that requires a tremendous amount of self-management – the good news for people who have the disease is that we can work together to help keep them healthy.”
UHN’s Banting and Best Diabetes Clinic provides exemplary care to diabetes patients who have complex illnesses. In this regard, “knowledge translation, or education, is an area that holds tremendous promise,” says Dr. Lewis. “Right now there is a significant gap between what we know works and what is applied by health-care providers and patients in everyday life.”
The clinic is sharing innovative methods of patient education with family physicians, pharmacists and dietitians. “We are looking at ways to improve education and provide better self-management support for people living with diabetes, through the development of more user-friendly tools, including the use of technology and social media,” he explains.
As part of this initiative, for example, UHN’s Centre for Global e-Health Innovation developed an iPhone app, called “Bant.” It captures blood glucose data and encourages healthy behaviour by offering incentives for teens with type 1 diabetes to follow their regimens.
Dr. Gary Lewis is the director of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University Health Network (UHN) and director of the Banting and Best Diabetes Centre at the University of Toronto
UHN has a great legacy of diabetes research, starting with the first clinical use of insulin at Toronto General Hospital in 1922. Today, the network focuses on highly innovative research programs that will facilitate the translation of discoveries from the lab to the clinic. For example, stem cell research at UHN’s McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine has made significant progress in creating human insulin-producing beta cells. The goal of the research is to translate this discovery into clinical application by transplanting insulin-producing cells into patients with type 1 diabetes, eliminating the need for insulin injections.
“This research also holds promise for type 2 diabetes, as we further understand the development of the disease,” says Dr. Lewis.
Through a partnership with UHN, Sun Life Financial has announced a major investment in diabetes research, care and education. Mary De Paoli, the executive vice president of public and corporate affairs and chief marketing officer of Sun Life Financial, says, “At Sun Life, we’re concerned that one-third of Canadians will be living with diabetes or prediabetes in less than a decade.”
The University Health Network has been at the forefront of diabetes research and care in Canada since the groundbreaking discovery of insulin by Drs. Banting and Best in 1921, she says. “Today, UHN has one of the largest concentrations of diabetes clinical care, research and educational activity in the world – and certainly the most significant in Canada. UHN is on the cutting edge in the latest advances in diabetes research, and in raising awareness about the prevention of this disease.”
As part of its commitment to wellness in Canada, Sun Life has chosen to make diabetes prevention and awareness a major focus of its philanthropic efforts. “We believe we can make a difference and improve the lives of Canadians by making this commitment to diabetes prevention,” says Ms. De Paoli. “It is through awareness that we will see a measurable difference in our effort to curb the spread of this disease.”
Sun Life will bring special insights to the cause through the expertise developed by providing benefits and wellness programs to millions of Canadians. “In our business, we have seen both the human costs and the financial costs related to diabetes growing by 50 per cent in just five years – and these costs do not include all related conditions,” says Ms. De Paoli. “Together with UHN and Dr. Lewis, we have an opportunity to look at innovative approaches to preventing diabetes and making a lasting impact on the lives of so many Canadians touched by this disease.”